Must-Have Accessories for Every Boat
What you carry onboard your boat is just as important as the boat itself. After all, what good is owning a boat if you don't have essential supplies to make your trips enjoyable?
The subject of what boat accessories are absolutely essential can be subjective, but most of the items on this list are either required by law or just common sense. Seasoned boaters will probably already have these “must have” accessories, but for novice boaters who are still learning the nautical ropes, here’s our list of essential boat accessories.
Personal Flotation Devices
Even the most capable swimmers are capable of drowning, so perhaps the most essential boating accessory is the life jacket or vest.
Personal flotation devices on a boat are not only important for the safety of you and your passengers, but they’re required by law. Most states require at least one lifejacket on board, but it’s always a good idea to have more. Ideally, you should have one per passenger, but at the very least you should always carry a spare.
Lifejackets come in a variety of styles and materials, some more comfortable (and expensive) than others. Know your state’s life preserver requirements and abide by them, and check the requirements of the US Coast Guard as well before equipping your boat. Also, have throwable cushions or rings on board for man-overboard emergencies.
First Aid Kit
It’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit anywhere, but especially on a boat in case somebody gets injured.
You never know when somebody will cut their foot, so having a first aid kit on board can help ensure you don’t have to cut your boating time short over any minor injuries that don’t require professional medical attention. First-aid kits are a portable must-have boating accessory that can be stored easily in a compartment, so don’t leave shore without one!
General Safety Kit
Much like a first-aid kit, a general safety kit is an essential boat accessory to have readily available during unexpected emergencies.
You can buy ready-made safety kits or customize one of your own. If you decide to put one together yourself, there are several items you should include:
- Emergency signaling items such as flares, whistles and air horns
- A marine VHF radio with batteries if you don't already have one mounted
- Flashlights (preferably crank-powered) in case you get stranded at night
- Goggles or masks in case you have to find someone or something underwater
- Plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent to protect your skin
- A good knife and a basic multi-tool set for unexpected obstacles
- Foldable paddles and an inflatable raft in case you have to abandon ship
These accessories are always good to have in case of emergencies, and some USCG safety kits come equipped with essentials like life vests and fire extinguishers. If you decide to prepare your own safety kit, the next items on our list will come in handy as well.
Dry Sack/Dry Box
To keep your safety and personal items dry, it’s a good idea to have a dry sack, a dry box or both on board. A dry box is a great boating accessory for protecting your phone and other electronic devices on board, but it’s not ideal for carrying your stuff off the boat.
That’s where the dry sack or dry bag comes in handy. If you plan on walking from your boat to shore or carrying your stuff around at a sandbar, always have a dry sack on board.
A fire extinguisher is another essential accessory for your boat.
Your watercraft should already come with a fire extinguisher (and other fire suppression accessories), but if it doesn't, don't go offshore until you get one! You never know when a fire will break out on board or on a nearby boat, so you should always have an extinguisher handy.
They're a standard state requirement to have on boats, and the US Coast Guard has varying fire extinguisher requirements for different sized vessels. Familiarize yourself with the USCG fire extinguisher requirements before choosing yours.
Battery Jump Pack
When your car battery dies, it’s a lot easier to ask passersby to give you a jump start. Out on the water? Not so much.
Make sure you have a good jump pack handy if your boat’s battery dies. Jump packs are another relatively inexpensive portable boat accessory. Some modern jump packs even come with extras such as USB portals to charge your phone and other electronic devices.
Solar Panel/Solar Charger
A solar panel kit or charger is a handy alternative for keeping your boat’s battery charged.
While a solar panel should never fully replace your main battery charger, it doesn’t hurt to have one on standby. Solar products are much more affordable and efficient today, and some can not only charge your engine’s battery, but other electronic devices as well. Consider buying a solar charger for your boat’s battery that comes with accessories for juicing up other electronic devices as well.
Yes, most cell phones today come standard with GPS technology built in.
However, when you’re somewhere far out on the water, you might not always get a signal on your phone. That’s where the marine GPS comes in! Today’s marine GPS technology offers more than what the run-of-the-mill GPS on your phone provides. From electronic charts to geocaching, fish finders, sonar and more, marine GPS technology has improved significantly over the years.
The biggest benefit to marine GPS is that it can help you navigate unfamiliar waters, and pinpoint hazards such as channel markers in a way the standard GPS on your phone might not be able to. And like most technology that has been around for a while, it has become more affordable as well.
This boating accessory is pretty obvious, but a day out at sea is much more enjoyable with a cooler on board.
You want to have one available for keeping plenty of water on hand to keep you hydrated during hot days offshore. And if you get stranded out at sea, it’s good to have plenty of food and water in a cooler until help arrives. Consider buying a cooler mounting kit for your boat as well. These kits allow you to have a permanent cooler on board that keeps it from sliding around, and eliminates the inconvenience of carrying a loaded cooler around or forgetting to bring one.
Dock Lines, Fenders and Cleats
This trio of boat accessories are basic essentials for any boat.
Fenders hang off the side of your boat and come in various sizes for different boat types. Hang 2-3 bumpers off each side of your boat at different points where it would otherwise make direct contact with the dock.
You can buy dock lines pretty cheap, but it’s better to spend a little extra on high endurance lines to ensure your boat is secured. Dock lines are also great to have onboard in case your boat needs towing. Buy some extra cleats for your boat too in case the ones it has fitted on fly off.
This boat accessory doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but anchors are a must for any watercraft.
It’s impossible to keep your boat secured in one spot on the water for too long without one. For safety reasons, an anchor also helps prevent your boat from drifting into rocks and other hazardous obstacles when stranded. Anchors come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different waterbodies, so you might want to buy more than one anchor type for your boat.
Before the miracle of GPS technology, sailors relied heavily on their compass to navigate the seas.
A compass might seem obsolete today with the advent of GPS navigation, but it doesn’t hurt to have one on your boat to help you find your way home if GPS technology fails.
Marine compasses might seem like outdated relics, but modern compasses have a little technology behind them, such as illumination for nighttime navigation. They’re also inexpensive, and it never hurts to have one handy.
Remember that GPS depends on electricity and/or batteries that can lose charge, and on satellite signals that can experience interference. The display on your marine GPS can also burn out or fail on you, so having a compass on your boat will never be irrelevant.
No list of accessories for boats would be complete without the boat top, better known as a Bimini top.
This must-have accessory provides protection and comfortable shade from the blazing sun and often spine-chilling rain. Bimini tops are available for varying boat sizes and coverage areas, and can be custom made for your boat’s specific needs. When choosing a Bimini top, there are many factors to consider, including dimensions, frame types and colors.
The main benefit of having one is for the protection it provides you, your passengers, and the electronic instruments on your boat.
We hope this list of essential boating accessories helps make your offshore experiences safer and more enjoyable. Don't leave shore without them!